Mineworkers underground at Harmony Gold Mine's Cooke shaft near Johannesburg
Mineworkers underground at Harmony Gold Mine's Cooke shaft near Johannesburg, September 22, 2005. REUTERS

The South African water ministry has issued a warning that acidic water seeping from abandoned gold mines under Johannesburg could rise and leak into the city early next year and contaminate groundwater.

In a report released by The Department of Water Affairs (DWA), it recommends the immediate construction of pumps and monitoring stations; and the establishment of acid mine drainage procedures.

The panel who penned the study warned that if the poisonous liquid continues to rise upward, it will initially flow into low-lying areas in the popular tourist neighborhood of Gold Reef City. Property and infrastructure could ultimately be damaged.

The toxic water have been trapped in mine shafts which were dug more than 100 years ago and snake for miles underneath the vast metropolis.

However, government officials were quick to point out there was no immediate cause for fear and panic.
The government stated it is realistic to have pump stations ready by March 2012.

Meanwhile, the government wants mining companies to pay for part of the costs associated with treating acid water.

DWA estimated that the initial costs of pumping and treating the water will amount to about 443 million rand ($62.6 million) and an additional 76 million rand annually.

The ministry said it might also impose an environmental tax on these companies.

“In the short term, the mining industry is expected to contribute some of the costs,” the ministry said.

“In the medium to long term, the country should also explore the viability of an environmental levy on all operating mines to fund the environmental legacies of the mining industry, including the management of acid mine drainage.”

Mining firms that might be liable to these costs include AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Gold Fields Ltd. and Harmony Gold Mining Co.,

“Decant has already occurred in the Western Basin, while the Central Basin is currently flooding and will decant within two to three years unless decisive action is taken immediately to prevent it,” the report said.

DWA added that the government will fund and coordinate efforts to manage the drainage through its agencies.